Emergent constraints are physically explainable empirical relationships between characteristics of the current climate and long-term climate prediction that emerge in collections of climate model simulations. With the prospect of constraining long-term climate prediction, scientists have recently uncovered several emergent constraints related to long-term cloud feedbacks. We review these proposed emergent constraints, many of which involve the behavior of low-level clouds, and discuss criteria to assess their credibility. With further research, some of the cases we review may eventually become confirmed emergent constraints, provided they are accompanied by credible physical explanations. Because confirmed emergent constraints identify a source of model error that projects onto climate predictions, they deserve extra attention from those developing climate models and climate observations. While a systematic bias cannot be ruled out, it is noteworthy that the promising emergent constraints suggest larger cloud feedback and hence climate sensitivity.
How tropical low clouds change with climate remains the dominant source of uncertainty in global warming projections. An analysis of an ensemble of CMIP5 climate models reveals that a significant part of the spread in the models’ climate sensitivity can be accounted by differences in the climatological shallowness of tropical low clouds in weak-subsidence regimes: models with shallower low clouds in weak-subsidence regimes tend to have a higher climate sensitivity than models with deeper low clouds. The dynamical mechanisms responsible for the model differences are analyzed. Competing effects of parameterized boundary-layer turbulence and shallow convection are found to be essential. Boundary-layer turbulence and shallow convection are typically represented by distinct parameterization schemes in current models—parameterization schemes that often produce opposing effects on low clouds. Convective drying of the boundary layer tends to deepen low clouds and reduce the cloud fraction at the lowest levels; turbulent moistening tends to make low clouds more shallow but affects the low-cloud fraction less. The relative importance different models assign to these opposing mechanisms contributes to the spread of the climatological shallowness of low clouds and thus to the spread of low-cloud changes under global warming.
In the current generation of climate models, the projected increase in global precipitation over the 21st century ranges from 2% to 10% under a high‐emission scenario. Some of this uncertainty can be traced to the rapid response to carbon dioxide (CO2) forcing. We analyze an ensemble of simulations to better understand model spread in this rapid response. A substantial amount is linked to how the land surface partitions a change in latent versus sensible heat flux in response to the CO2‐induced radiative perturbation; a larger increase in sensible heat results in a larger decrease in global precipitation. Model differences in the land surface response appear to be strongly related to the vegetation response to increased CO2, specifically, the closure of leaf stomata. Future research should thus focus on evaluation of the vegetation physiological response, including stomatal conductance parameterizations, for the purpose of constraining the fast response of Earth's hydrologic cycle to CO2 forcing.
The response to warming of tropical low-level clouds including both marine stratocumulus and trade cumulus is a major source of uncertainty in projections of future climate. Climate model simulations of the response vary widely, reflecting the difficulty the models have in simulating these clouds. These inadequacies have led to alternative approaches to predict low-cloud feedbacks. Here, we review an observational approach that relies on the assumption that observed relationships between low clouds and the “cloud-controlling factors” of the large-scale environment are invariant across time-scales. With this assumption, and given predictions of how the cloud-controlling factors change with climate warming, one can predict low-cloud feedbacks without using any model simulation of low clouds. We discuss both fundamental and implementation issues with this approach and suggest steps that could reduce uncertainty in the predicted low-cloud feedback. Recent studies using this approach predict that the tropical low-cloud feedback is positive mainly due to the observation that reflection of solar radiation by low clouds decreases as temperature increases, holding all other cloud-controlling factors fixed. The positive feedback from temperature is partially offset by a negative feedback from the tendency for the inversion strength to increase in a warming world, with other cloud-controlling factors playing a smaller role. A consensus estimate from these studies for the contribution of tropical low clouds to the global mean cloud feedback is 0.25 ± 0.18 W m−2 K−1 (90% confidence interval), suggesting it is very unlikely that tropical low clouds reduce total global cloud feedback. Because the prediction of positive tropical low-cloud feedback with this approach is consistent with independent evidence from low-cloud feedback studies using high-resolution cloud models, progress is being made in reducing this key climate uncertainty.
Biases in climate model simulations introduce biases in subsequent impact simulations. Therefore, bias correction methods are operationally used to post-process regional climate projections. However, many problems have been identified, and some researchers question the very basis of the approach. Here we demonstrate that a typical cross-validation is unable to identify improper use of bias correction. Several examples show the limited ability of bias correction to correct and to downscale variability, and demonstrate that bias correction can cause implausible climate change signals. Bias correction cannot overcome major model errors, and naive application might result in ill-informed adaptation decisions. We conclude with a list of recommendations and suggestions for future research to reduce, post-process, and cope with climate model biases.
Snow albedo feedback (SAF) behaves similarly in the current and future climate contexts; thus, constraining the large intermodel variance in SAF will likely reduce uncertainty in climate projections. To better understand this intermodel spread, structural and parametric biases contributing to SAF variability are investigated. We find that structurally varying snowpack, vegetation, and albedo parameterizations drive most of the spread, while differences arising from model parameters are generally smaller. Models with the largest SAF biases exhibit clear structural or parametric errors. Additionally, despite widespread intermodel similarities, model interdependency has little impact on the strength of the relationship between SAF in the current and future climate contexts. Furthermore, many models now feature a more realistic SAF than in the prior generation, but shortcomings from two models limit the reduction in ensemble spread. Lastly, preliminary signs from ongoing model development are positive and suggest a likely reduction in SAF spread among upcoming models.
A highly uncertain aspect of anthropogenic climate change is the rate at which the global hydrologic cycle intensifies. The future change in global‐mean precipitation per degree warming, or hydrologic sensitivity, exhibits a threefold spread (1–3%/K) in current global climate models. In this study, we find that the intermodel spread in this value is associated with a significant portion of variability in future projections of extreme precipitation in the tropics, extending also into subtropical atmospheric river corridors. Additionally, there is a very tight intermodel relationship between changes in extreme and nonextreme precipitation, whereby models compensate for increasing extreme precipitation events by decreasing weak‐moderate events. Another factor linked to changes in precipitation extremes is model resolution, with higher resolution models showing a larger increase in heavy extremes. These results highlight ways various aspects of hydrologic cycle intensification are linked in models and shed new light on the task of constraining precipitation extremes.
Emergent constraints use relationships between future and current climate states to constrain projections of climate response. Here we introduce a statistical, hierarchical emergent constraint (HEC) framework in order to link future and current climates with observations. Under Gaussian assumptions, the mean and variance of the future state are shown analytically to be a function of the signal‐to‐noise ratio between current climate uncertainty and observation error and the correlation between future and current climate states. We apply the HEC to the climate change, snow‐albedo feedback, which is related to the seasonal cycle in the Northern Hemisphere. We obtain a snow‐albedo feedback prediction interval of (−1.25,−0.58)%/K. The critical dependence on signal‐to‐noise ratio and correlation shows that neglecting these terms can lead to bias and underestimated uncertainty in constrained projections. The flexibility of using HEC under general assumptions throughout the Earth system is discussed.
This paper describes ESM-SnowMIP, an international coordinated modelling effort to evaluate current snow schemes, including snow schemes that are included in Earth system models, in a wide variety of settings against local and global observations. The project aims to identify crucial processes and characteristics that need to be improved in snow models in the context of local- and global-scale modelling. A further objective of ESM-SnowMIP is to better quantify snow-related feedbacks in the Earth system. Although it is not part of the sixth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6), ESM-SnowMIP is tightly linked to the CMIP6-endorsed Land Surface, Snow and Soil Moisture Model Intercomparison (LS3MIP).